Well after all the exciting playoff series, it’s now time for the MasterCard Memorial Cup. Starting on Friday, 4 of the top teams across the country will compete for Junior Hockey’s top prize. There are no real surprises after all of the dust has settled. All of the teams involved deserve to be there, and it should be an exciting tournament.
RED DEER REBELS
The host team Red Deer Rebels come into this being well rested and very competitive. The Rebels had a good season, disposed of their rivals the Calgary Hitmen in the first round, and then went head to head with the Regina Pats in an exciting 7 game series that they went on to win. The Rebels lost out in the WHL’s Eastern final to the eventual League Champion Brandon Wheat Kings. The Rebels have one of the best home records in the WHL, Brent Sutter will have his team ready to play, and they shouldn’t be taken lightly, especially in a short tournament where anything can happen.
The Rebels will get a boost with regular season leading scorer Ivan Nikolishin returning to their lineup after suffering a leg injury in game 2 of their first round series with Calgary. Starting goaltender Rylan Toth has returned to the net and is looking to be back into form for the start of the tournament backstopping one of the best defensive teams in the WHL. Conner Bleackley, the Colorado Avalanche 2014 1st round pick (and currently property of the Arizona Coyotes, following the Mikael Boedker trade) has resumed practicing with his team and is hoping to be available for his team’s tournament opening matchup with London on Friday night, which would also give his club a big boost up front.
Red Deer will be led up front by Adam Helewka (SJ, 106, 2015) with 9 G and 9 A for 18 pts in 17 games, and Jake DeBrusk (Bos 14, 2015) with 8 G and 9 A in 17 games. The blueline is anchored by Hayden Fleury (Car, 7, 2014) and draft eligibles Colton Bobyk and Josh Mahura, who will get the bulk of the play against the opposition’s top lines.
Other players to watch for Red Deer are 2016 draft eligible forwards Brandon Hagel (13G and 34 A in the regular season, and 1G 9A in 17 Playoff games) and Jeff De Wit who are projected to go in the mid rounds, and defenseman Austin Strand who could be a late round pick.
The Huskies come in to the memorial cup as the CHL’s top ranked team after the regular season and have had a bit of a storybook season. They finished with 54 wins, and have managed to cruise through the QMHL playoffs with a 16 – 4 record, defeating the Shawinigan Cataractes in 5 games in the QMJHL final.
The Huskies have a strong offensive attack, being led by 20-year old QMJHL MVP Francis Perron (2014 round 7 #190 overall by Ottawa Senators) who has had an excellent season and playoffs (41G 67A 108 pts regular season and 12G 21A for 33PTS in 18 playoff games). Perron is joined by Timo Meier (2015 round 1 #9 overall by San Jose Sharks) who was acquired from Halifax, who has put up 11G 12A in the playoffs following his 87 pts in 52 regular season games. They are joined by Jean-Christophe Beaudin (2015 round 3 #71 overall by Colorado Avalanche) who has also put up big numbers this season (33G 49A in 58 games with an impressive +47) and helps with the strong offensive attack of the Huskies, and Anthony-John Greer (2015 round 2 #39 overall by Colorado Avalanche) who joined them midway through the season from Boston University and has fit in nicely posting 12G 10 A in 20 playoff games.
The Huskies are backstopped by Chase Marchand who went 15-3 and had a record setting playoff posting .946 SV% and 1.35 GAA which are both new QMJHL records. So there don’t seem to be any worries or concerns in goal. In front of him they have a solid defence, with some quick mobile defenceman who play well on both ends of the ice. The Huskies will have great news as they will have their top defenseman Jeremy Lauzon (2015 round 2 #52 overall by Boston Bruins) back in the lineup after taking a skate to the neck andthe missing the last playoff series. Nikolas Brouillard (acquired in a trade from Quebec Remparts midway through the season) is another offensive threat, and adds experience and leadership as he took part in last year’s memorial cup with the Remparts.
With all of the success that the Huskies have had this season, they still seem to be questioned going in to the tournament as to how they measure against the other “big” clubs. They will be put to the test as they play against the other league champions as anything can happen in a short tournament.
Other players to watch for the Huskies are Martins Dzierkals (2015 round 3 #68 overall by Toronto Maple Leafs) with 17 points in 20 games, Julien Nantel (2014 round 7 #204 overall by Colorado Avalanche) 46 pts in 52 regular season games, Gabriel Fontaine (2016 draft eligible) with 16 points in 20 games, and Phillipe Myers (undrafted – signed entry level contract with Philadelphia) who had 45 pts in 63 regular season games and 16 pts in 20 playoff games.
BRANDON WHEAT KINGS
After losing their first 2 playoff games to the Edmonton Oil Kings, the Wheat Kings put their game together and rolled right through the WHL playoffs on their way to winning the WHL title by beating the Seattle Thunderbirds in 5 games. Brandon has a very deep team, and is solid all around. They had the top offense in the WHL and are tied with London as the highest scoring team in the country with 319 goals for. They are also one of the top defensive teams in the WHL, and should match up well against the other teams.
Brandon’s offense is clicking and they’re getting scoring from all of their lines. Nolan Patrick (Eligible for 2017 draft) is coming off a great regular season campaign in which he scored 41 G and added 61A for a total of 102 points, and he has kept up his pace by leading the Wheat Kings in playoff scoring with 13G, 17A for 30 pts. Jayce Hawryluk (2014 round 2 #32 overall by Florida Panthers) is keeping pace with 7G and 23A for 30 points, and John Quenneville (2014 round 1 #30 overall by New Jersey Devils) 16G 11A for 27 points lead the charge for Brandon. The supporting cast of Tim McGauley (Undrafted, signed with Washington) 26 points in 30 games and Reid Duke (2014 round 6 #169 overall by Minnesota Wild) has chipped in 24 points in 21 games to anchor the offense for the Wheat Kings.
The defense is led by the Philadelphia Flyers 2015 #7 overall pick Ivan Provorov who has posted 13 points and a +22, and Macoy Erkamps (undrafted – signed with Ottawa) with 14 points and a +24. 2016 draft prospect Kale Clague has been very good as well and has pitched in 14 points in 21 games.
In goal, Jordan Papirny has been steady for the Wheat Kings. His numbers aren’t as good as some of the other goaltenders, but he has made timely saves for the Wheat Kings. This would probably be the one area that could be improved for Brandon, but they have an offense good enough that it hasn’t hurt them. We will see what happens when they meet London.
Other players to watch for Brandon are Tanner Kaspick (2016 draft Eligible) 31 points in 53 games, and Stelio Mattheos (2017 draft eligible) 30 points in 53 games.
London comes into the tournament as the clear favorites. The Knights can beat you in many different ways and boast the best first line in junior hockey. They are a team that can play with you in any style, and find a way to win, whether it’s a 1-0 or 7-6 game. They had their way through the OHL playoffs by sweeping the final 3 series that they played, including over Niagara in the OHL league final.
This dynamic offense is led by the line of 2016 top ranked draft prospect Matthew Tkachuk (expected to go in the top 5-10 picks of this year’s draft) who posted up a whopping 107 points in 57 games, and 20G and 20A in 18 playoff games. Alongside of him is Mitch Marner (2015 round 1 #4 overall by Toronto Maple Leafs) 116 points in 57 games and 44 points in 18 playoff games. Christian Dvorak (the 2014 round 2 #58 overall by Arizona Coyotes, 52G 69A for 121 points and 35 points in 18 playoff games) completes the lethal trio and they should be exciting to watch. Maple Leafs 2014 fourth-rounder JJ Piccinich (66 points in 66 games) leads the secondary scoring for the Knights.
The Knights blue line is held up by a couple of 2016 top draft prospects in Olli Juolevi a 2016 top 10 projected pick who has turned out a 42 point season in 57 games and has added another 14 points in 18 playoff games. He is joined by Victor Mete, who is projected to be a mid round pick and has produced a moderate 38 points in 68 regular season games, and another 11 points in 18 games in the playoffs.
The goaltending is solidified with Tyler Parsons holding the net, boasting a .925 save percentage and a 2.15 Goals against. As mentioned, they have rolled right through the playoffs and are up for the challenge in Red Deer.
Other players to watch for London are undrafted over-ager Aaron Berisha (11 points in 18 games), power forward Max Jones who is another projected 2016 1st round pick (52 points in 63 regular season games), undrafted Owen MacDonald 11 points in 18 playoff games, and defenceman Evan Bouchard (2018 eligible prospect with 17 points in 43 games) are flourishing under the guidance of Dale Hunter.
All in all, I expect the London Knights and Brandon Wheat Kings to rise above Red Deer and Rouyn-Noranda for what should be an excellent final to watch. It will be interesting to see which team has the depth to keep going, and also to see if the Wheat Kings goaltending can hang in there against a fired up and well led hockey club with London. But as we know, anything can happen in a short tournament with single game elimination playoffs, so let the games begin.